Belsat TV has interviewed two Belarusians who helped Ukrainians in their fighting against pro-Russian separatists but landed in a refugee center in Poland some days ago. The duo surrendered to Polish border guards and now they are being kept in a closed refugee center in the town of Przemysl.
One of them, Zmitser Belahortsau, does not сonceal his name and surname. He explains to our journalist by phone why he left Ukraine.
Z.B.: We spent two years in Ukraine without any documents. There was every likelihood of our being extradited to Belarus. We had no other way out but to seek asylum in Poland. We came to Ukraine’s Migration Service of Ukraine and officials repeatedly told us: “You have no documents.” And they sent a written response: “You should go to Belarus to have your passport re-issued”.
You know how Ukrainian officials work: they do not get you handcuffed immediately. But they say: “Your staying here is illegal, you will be deported tomorrow or some other say.” One cannot normally live if they do not have papers – they cannot get a job or rent a flat. Any police officer stops them in the street and ask: “Where are your papers?”
Belsat.eu: How long have you been in the refugee center?
Z.B: This is not a center [Strzeżony Ośrodek dla Cudzoziemców – Belsat] but prison. [The seekers are not permitted to leave its territory – Belsat]. We have been here for a week.
Belsat: Don’t you regret your decision to go and help Ukraine after you have found you are unwelcome there?
Z.B.: This is a rhetorical question. The fact is that I did not go [to Belarus]. I have lived in Ukraine for eight years, but I have Belarusian citizenship. Like many other men in Ukraine, where it [the conflict] started, I considered it my duty to go and defend Ukraine. And they [officials] promised to prepare all the necessary documents. I have a residence permit in Ukraine, my wife and daughter are citizens of Ukraine, we have a house near Kyiv.
But my Belarusian passport burnt to ash during the war. Ukrainian authorities told me to have my passport reissued in Belarus. But they call me and say: “We are waiting for you here, you will be sntenced to 15 years in prison.”
Belsat.eu: From whom do you receive such messages?
Z.B: They are apparently KGB officers. <…> They phone and say they are journalists. They state we have some problems in Belarus and we should come to Minsk and solve them. Our families will face trouble, they say.
Belsat: You have been in Ukraine for many years. Does it hurt you that such things happened?
Z.B.: Well, you see, no one cares whether it hurts.
Belsat: What are you going to do?
Z.B: We are waiting for Poland’s decision granting (or not granting) us asylum.
Zmitser puts his friend (nom-de-guerre ‘Dok’) on the phone.
‘Dok’: We decided to seek asylum in Poland because we had repeatedly received negative responses from all Ukrainian authorities within two years. And the story ended with open threats to deport us.
Belsat: So, you helped Ukraine, and your help has not been appreciated?
‘Dok’: I’m sorry that it happened. Of course, I would like the Ukrainian state not to wreck lives of those who helped it. But the opposite has been the case.
Belsat: And what are the chances that you will be given asylum?
‘Dok’: It is hard to say. No one has talked to us about asylum yet, we are waiting for the interview. But sometimes it may take even a few months.
Belsat: Did you get threats from Belarus?
‘Dok’: Yes, when I was in Ukraine, they [Belarusian special services] tried to threaten me. My mother was questioned by the KGB, they kept my flat under observation and so on.
Belsat: Did Ukraiian MPs support you? Were there any attempts to solve the problem of legalization of volunteer fighters from Belarus?
‘Dok’: A lot of deputies helped us. But the only they could do is to write and file an appeal. But in any case, it is the president of Ukraine who makes decisions on granting citizenship.
belsat.eu, phot. tsn.ua